Principles of Dog Nutrition
Did you know that some of the most popular and most trusted brands of dog foods are purposely formulated to just meet the minimum requirements of an average dog? These formulations are set up so that the pet food can be sold at a targeted lower price in order to appeal to the consumer group that will not spend higher amounts on dog food. A dog food that just barely meets the minimum nutritional requirements of a dog will have cheaper ingredients, such as grains, instead of higher quality ingredients that cost more. And meeting the minimum standards for an average dog means statistically some dogs won't get what they need.
What if your puppy or adult dog isn't average? No one has ever shown me what an average dog looks like so how am I, after working with tens of thousands of dogs over thirty years of practice, supposed to know the difference between an average dog and one that isn't? How will you know if your dog is average? And even if you did know, would you really want to feed it a food that was specifically designed to only meet it's minimum requirements?
Buy a cheap dog food and you will be feeding your dog cheap ingredients. Cheap ingredients are less efficiently digested, there's more fecal waste production, and the dog won't be as healthy as when fed higher quality (meat-based) dog food.
Another example of how poorly regulated the pet food industry is concerns preservatives. There are all kinds of agents used to keep the nutritional value in that bag or can of dog food from deteriorating over time. The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) Official Publication lists 36 preservatives, some having no restrictions on amounts that can be mixed with the food. Chemicals such as Ethoxyquin and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) have controversial reputations as to safety. Most experts will tell us they are safe, however, many pet owners would rather avoid chemical preservatives and instead use substances that don't have murky reputations. Currently, pet food consumers have driven the popularity of more "natural" preservatives such as vitamin E or vitamin C.
Naturally we consumers, when given a choice, generally pick a food preserved with vitamin E and have every reason to expect that the food has no other preservatives in it. Well, sorry. It still could have other chemical preservatives in the food if the manufacturer purchased the fat and protein from suppliers who, prior to shipping to the manufacturers, added chemical preservatives. So the food manufacturer's label says, "preserved with Vitamin E" because that's all they added. You have no way of knowing if prior to what the manufacturer did, someone else added other preservatives. In my opinion, the pet food industry really needs tighter controls and more specific labeling of their products.
In the meantime, you might be asking, "How do I pick out a good food for my dog?" There are some general rules to follow and concepts to keep in mind when choosing a good dog food.
Choosing a Good Dog Food
Making the right choice starts with reading the label's list of ingredients. By law the ingredients must be listed according to weight of the ingredient added in descending order. In other words, by weight of raw ingredient the main ingredient is listed first, second most prominent ingredient next, and so on.
The first three ingredients are the most important. It's easy to tell if the diet is vegetable based, with corn, rice, wheat, and soybean meal listed as the main ingredients; or if the diet is meat based, with meat, lamb, fish or poultry listed as the main ingredients.
I would always pick a meat-based diet over vegetable-based foods for optimum health for dogs. Now...here's the catch! I'm going to have to pay more for the meat-based diet! Responsible and caring dog owners should never let the price of the food dictate the purchase decision. In almost every situation with dog food, you get what you pay for. The higher the price the higher the quality. I'll let you consider the converse of that. And the higher the quality of the ingredients, the greater the nutritive value for the dog. Plus, you will purchase less high quality food than cheap food since dogs must eat more low quality food to meet their nutritional needs.
Immediately you will notice that when feeding a high quality, meat-based food, the dog will need to consume fewer cups of it per day than a cheap diet; the dog will also pass noticeably less stool when consuming a high quality diet than with a grain-based diet.
Cheap dog foods -- and they are widely available and wrapped in all sorts of fancy labels -- will contain cheap ingredients that will be poorly digested and will lead, over varying lengths of time, to deficiencies in your dog's health. Stroll through the pet food departments of various pet food outlets and read the labels of the different products. The cheap food will almost always be vegetable based and the more costly foods will be meat, poultry or fish based. Your dog has no control over your choice; so you have an obligation to provide good quality products that will optimize your dog's quality of life!
And don't forget to pay attention to the trick of "ingredient splitting." What the pet food manufacturer does, in order to make the ingredient list look better, is to break down a product such as corn into its different forms, then place each form of the ingredient into the ingredient list according to the amount of the form present.
For example, they will list ground corn, yellow corn meal, corn gluten, and corn gluten meal separately and thereby split up "corn" (which really should be listed as the main ingredient) in to places further down on the ingredient list to make it appear to the consumer that there is less corn in the dog food.
See the difference between meat-based diets and grain-based diets here.
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